One of the facets of Deadzone that has surprised a few gamers who’ve played my other games is the idea that it has an i-go-u-go turn system. It’s just not what I do. So why have I done it this time? Am I losing my marbles?
Well no, at least not all of them. It starts out as an i-go-u go system – it’s just not where it ends.
These days i-go-u-go systems are sometimes thought of as a bit old fashioned or even clunky, especially in skirmish games where people might expect more fluidity or interaction. However, all these good things come at a price.
Games such as Infinity allow a great deal of flexibility in the way you act within an i-go-u-go system (with interrupts from the opponent). To explain briefly for those who haven’t played it, each turn you get an action per model and may then give out those actions as you see fit. So if you had 10 models you would get 10 actions and you could then theoretically put all of them onto your best model. Of course there are wrinkles, but this is the core idea. Unfortunately this tends to involve half the army standing about doing nothing except feeding actions to the really good bits, hence the fan nickname of cheerleaders for the cheap troops.
An alternative action based route might be to force people to use, say, half the army one turn and the other half the next, but I felt this too rigid and restrictive. It does avoid the cheerleader issue though.
Early versions of DZ experimented with a variety of action based and alternate activation mechanics, but each one caused as many issues as it raised. The God of Battles system of alternate activations works well for the slower pace of a field battle, but in a skirmish I wanted to be able to act with fire teams in close mutual support. I wanted rushes of units, bursting through doorways into rooms or out of alleyways. Alternate actions breaks this up.
Then there are push-your-luck systems like Warmaster and that could work, though it suffers from a similar focus on the good bits of the army at the expense of the rest who get to stand about and watch.
Having not been happy with the first experiments I went back to basics: i-go-u-go. Each model on your side would do something, then each model on mine. This allowed for team actions, it made everyone do something and left no cheerleaders behind, all of which was good. Unfortunately it was also a bit predictable and cold. I don’t really like this as a pure system, though it works in some contexts. Here I felt that I just had to mess with it. I couldnt’ resist. So, I’ve added a set of Battle Cards for each faction, tailored to their specific fighting style. They can be played in addition to the basic actions of a model and allow them extra moves, bonuses to actions and some unique actions.
So instead of a system that says you can only act with half the models per turn (leaving cheerleaders) you have a system that lets you act with everyone once and some twice, which at least means that all your army is involved. A sort of one and a half activation instead of a half.
To encourage interaction between players there are several cards that can be played during your opponent’s turn and then there’s overwatch. So even though it’s i-go-u-go it doesn’t feel like a vanilla version of that concept at all and both players have reason to be paying attention at all times. It also encourages synergies and support, with models providing covering fire as their mates move across open ground. I really like this and it feels quite credible. Almost all I read these days is historical books, mostly memoirs, and this gives an oddly credible flow to the battle and the tactics you need to use to do well. I’m finding that the people who understand real world tactics are doing better than those that just treat it as another game, which is interesting. Part of the next phase of development will be to build on this and expand the effect.
Going back to overwatch for a moment, this also keeps your opponent honest in his turns. With so many actions in a player turn you might be able to overwhelm the opposition without overwatch. As it stands it works very well to balance out the wave assaults and mass fusillades. Other things that help are some of the Battle Cards which allow you to mess with your opponent somewhat. One forces him to discard, perhaps messing with his plan. Another takes away a model’s action for the next turn, and at a key moment this Distraction can cause havoc. Still more add to your own dice rolls, making it easier to survive attacks or to ignore the effects of suppression. Of course, there are only very limited supplies of such cards, and so managing that resource becomes very important.
Overall, what with one thing and another, the turn sequence in Deadzone works very well to both allow concerted efforts, team actions and synergies whilst keeping both sides involved. The fact that it plays so quickly stops a turn dragging on and there are enough unpredictable events to keep things fresh. But you don’t have to take my word for it for very long. The Alpha rules will be uploaded tomorrow so you can try them yourself 🙂